Saturday, May 9, 2009

The new real problem with TV

The new real problem with TV is as follows:

1. Shows live or die by ratings.
2. Viewers who watch shows on their DVRs aren't counted in the ratings.
3. The smartest viewers looking for the smartest shows mainly watch them via DVR now.
4. So there's now a dynamic pushing down the collective IQ of successful shows.

This won't go away. Yes, there are smart shows with great ratings, such as "House." But many other critically acclaimed shows--especially in genres such as science fiction or fantasy--die before their time. Consider "Pushing Daisies" and "Dead like me."

We need a way for the interested parties to make a profit from showing good shows that don't attract non-DVR types.

Some possibilities:

1. Pay channels like HBO. This is already happening, and certainly HBO has been successful. However, I don't see it doing much scifi.

2. Miniseries released directly to DVD, possibly backed by a free digital channel that airs pilots to the series. It has become vastly more cost-effective to produce TV shows with satisfying production values. Miniseries could beget more if they're successful, as is true for novel series like the Horatio Hornblower books.

3. TV channels need a piece of the action in DVD sales of shows they air. Many TV shows are successful on TV but not on DVD--those are the kind that DVR owners tend not to watch. OTOH Buffy was never that successful on TV, yet its DVD sales continue strongly, six years after the show wrapped. TV channels will be more inclined to make longer-term investments if they can profit from it.

Otherwise we'll just get sitcoms, routine police procedurals/hospital shows, and tarted-up evening soaps.